I’m pleased you get to meet Chenay today. She and her husband downsized their home a few years ago to make it easier for her to be a stay-at-home mom after their second child was born. And now, like the rest of us, they are making sense of a new normal during a pandemic with everyone working, living and schooling all in the same small space. Along those lines, Chenay has some really great insights into shifting priorities and making new traditions. Welcome, Chenay!

Hello! My name’s Chenay and I live with my husband, daughter, son, two cats, and our new puppy. My husband, Chris, and I met when we were seven and eight living two houses down the street from one another in North Las Vegas. We started dating when I was 17 and he was 18; we attended different high schools, so it was nice not to have to see each other all the time!

We married when we were babies at ages 23 and 24 and we were DINKs (dual income, no kids) till we decided to have our daughter, who was born  six years later. For a while, I did not want kids. I loved kids, my older sister has three of them and we enjoyed hanging out with them, but I wanted more freedom, more money, more travel, and more spontaneity in my future, and I didn’t think kids would afford me that future. It wasn’t until I left my soul sucking federal government job in 2012 that I actually started to think that having kids would be nice.

Our daughter, Evey, was born in 2014 and life has not been the same. Our son, Max, was born in our dining room in 2017 and our family was complete.

Evey is six and is incredibly kind and helpful when she’s not being sassy or calling her parents out. When she sees injustice, she must put it to rights. She loves building marble runs, drawing, swinging, singing, and helping out around the house. Max is three and is so sweet, except when his emotions get the better of him (can we say, threenager?) and he turns into the demon version of Jack-Jack from The Incredibles. He loves dinosaurs, space, rainbows, creating art, and hanging out in his body sock. 

I became a stay-at-home mom after Max was born, except for a six month stint last year when I worked at one of my old jobs while Chris job hunted after being let go from his previous job. I miss working, and I was hoping to send Max to preschool this fall and work part time, ideally at one of our museums so I could continue using my Master’s in Museum Studies, but the pandemic has erased my chances of that, unfortunately.

Chris is in IT at a non-profit health facility that’s only a three minute drive from our house. He works from home due to the pandemic, but still goes into the office to fix computers and what not. His job amped up due to the fact that he’s the telehealth point person, and now all of the employees needed to get trained and on board with the system. We’re lucky that he’s an essential worker and that we haven’t experienced job loss during this difficult time. 

We added a puppy to our brood in April, which was an insane decision for sure. We didn’t quite know what Nova’s breed mix was made up of, but we soon did a DNA test and found out she’s Siberian Husky, German Shepherd, Great Pyrenees, St. Bernard, Rottweiler, and super mutt! So we have a ginormous puppy (at four months old, she weighs 40 pounds!) that has a ton of energy! It’s been difficult raising a high energy pup and taking care of our two kids, but it’s getting easier. 

We live in the capital of Nevada, Carson City, so there’s tons of state government jobs here. We live in an older neighborhood in northern Carson, which allows us quicker access to Reno, where we lived for years before relocating here. I don’t love our neighborhood due to the fact that our street is off a main road, so traffic can be busy. We don’t know a lot of our neighbors due to this, but the ones we do know have become our friends and people we can rely on. However, most of our neighbors are older, so I grieve the fact that our kids don’t have a neighborhood crew to hang with like Chris and I did when we were kids. 

Currently, our tiny 1200 square foot house is worth $271,000, according to Zillow, which is crazy. We paid $239,000 for it in 2016 after selling our larger house in Reno for $345,000. Housing prices are horribly high in our area (I include Reno in this, too), in part due to an influx of people looking for work at Tesla and some new tech companies. The median home price in Carson is in the mid $300,000’s.

I enjoyed our small city much more before the pandemic hit. Our downtown is small, but it’s filled with cute shops and some good restaurants. A favorite pastime for our family was to play in the splash pad and get ice cream from Scoups, an adorable ice cream/soup restaurant.

Now, though, I’m feeling pissed off/scared/unsupported in our conservative city where protests occur denouncing the Governor’s mask mandate and pandemic related business closures; and now Nevada is in the “red zone”, go figure. When the Black Lives Matter protests first started, Chris and I decided to share our support and get a BLM sign for our front yard, but I instantly became terrified that someone would deface it, steal it, vandalize our house, or say something horrible to us while we were outside with our kids. So we opted to go with a vinyl window sticker instead, and we haven’t received any backlash, but I hate that we were, and still are kind of expecting it.

I should mention that we are also super close to Tahoe; Chris and I got married at Edgewood golf course in Tahoe, which is lovely during under normal circumstances, but you couldn’t pay us to go up there this summer with the spike in cases they’re having too. I mourn for our lost summer fun, but we’re trying to make new summer traditions, like camping near a creek only 15 minutes from our house. 

Purchasing our current home wasn’t as easy as our first home purchase due to the fact all of the houses in our low $200,000’s budget were selling quickly. We couldn’t get anything in Reno because everything sold too fast, so we looked in Carson because I worked there at the time and it wasn’t too far of a commute for Chris.

When we first saw our house, we were dazzled with the backyard, which was lovingly created and maintained by the previous owners. When we first put in an offer, we offered below what they were asking because, honestly, Chris and I, and our realtor, didn’t think it was worth what they were asking. The owners denied our offer, so we decided to keep looking. A month or so later the house was still on the market and so we did offer full price this time, but with a contingency due to the fact that we were trying to sell our first house at the same time.

I do not recommend doing a contingency unless you are doing a rent back for a little while, based on the horrendous moving day we had where we literally had less than 24 hours to move all of our crap, a two year old, and two cats. Thankfully we have amazing friends who helped us tremendously! 

Our move was a huge change, as all moves are, but we were moving to a new city and downsizing from a 2070 square foot, two story home, to a 1220 square foot, one story home. We chose to downsize because I realized pretty soon after having Evey that I could not maintain a large house, work part time, and raise a baby, and I definitely did not want stairs any longer. At this time, I was getting into the minimalist and simplifying movements and dreamed about life with less stuff in a house that could be cleaned much quicker. Also, we were looking to lower our mortgage payment in case we decided I would stay home after the birth of our then future second child. 

What I love about living in a smaller space is the ease of clean up and the fact that only the things we love and that are essential can stay in our house. Not that we follow this guideline perfectly, as I am constantly purging things, and bringing in more stuff, but it’s a nice guideline to follow.

The challenges about living in a smaller space, especially with two kids, is the need to get creative to house the things we love. My kids and I love making art, and so we have a plethora of art supplies, which I had no space for in the playroom, so I decided to install shelves in the dining room to hold art supplies, board games and puzzles (and our alcohol and glasses, because priorities), so that the kids could create and play in the dining room because, honestly, we rarely eat there. It was a space we sometimes used, and I didn’t realize that you could underutilize a space in a small house, but it’s possible. But now the dining room is now used every day to create googly eyed puppets, clay creations, and anything you could possibly dream up made out of paper.

Life in our small house definitely feels more cramped since the pandemic started. With Evey home instead of finishing out Kindergarten, and Chris working at the dining room, on the couch, or in our bedroom, we’ve all felt closer to each other, in good and bad ways. If Chris is on a call, he’ll sometimes go into the garage or sit on the patio table in the backyard. 

I love watching my kids play together, although I could do without the fighting. Even though they fight, as siblings do, I think they’re mostly happy that they get to spend this extra time together, and Max adores following his big sister around and copying everything she does, which she mostly enjoys. 

Before school let out for the summer, our daily life consisted of getting Evey to do her daily worksheets and journal pages for school (which weren’t that bad, thank goodness), indoor and outdoor playtime, and more than average screen time. Right now, as much as I would like a regular schedule, I just can’t do it. Sometimes my depression or anxiety takes hold and it’s all I can do just to be patient and present with my kids some days.

I started seeing a new therapist the week before the pandemic shut things down and I’m now seeing her virtually, which is such a wonderful thing! She has helped me navigate through so many low points during this crazy time, and I am incredibly grateful for that. 

So instead of a regular schedule, we randomly watch TV, play with the gajillion Picasso Tiles we bought during the pandemic, make all of the art, watch TV, read stories, play outside (when it’s not bloody hot), and Messenger my younger sister and her kids, who live in Florida. We’ve thrown in a couple playdates, but they are not regular because we’re still trying to maintain that distance.

And since we’re home all the time, the things that really bugged me about our house are really starting to annoy me. I wish I could change all of the flooring and get rid of the nasty carpet and broken tile. I would really love new countertops too, but none of that is happening anytime soon, so we are changing what we can!

We recently bought a new oven because our old one died, so that makes me want to be in the kitchen more despite the hated countertops. Also, I detested our front lawn because it was constantly full of pine needles from our huge tree and the grass was patchy, so at the beginning of the pandemic, I convinced Chris that we needed to dig it all up and create a Montessori-esque play space for the kids! It’s still a work in progress, but we currently have log slice trails for the kids to follow, a water playspace, and colorful flowers!

This pandemic has altered the way Chris and I see Carson, as I mentioned earlier, and really made us identify the characteristics that we’ve determined we need in a community in which we live. Chris and I have talked about this at length and we decided that we need a community in which education is important, diversity exists, and that is more liberal leaning. We don’t think that’s a tall order, and of course, no place is perfect, but we’re no longer willing to make excuses for our community’s failing to fulfill these needs. 

Max and Evey have both had birthdays during this time, so our normally huge parties were not possible, but I really enjoyed our low key celebrations and I don’t plan on throwing huge birthday parties ever again. I envision birthday trips or very small celebrations at home when the pandemic is through.

For me personally, the pandemic has given me the time and space to examine some of my relationships and I have decided that there are some things I am not willing to put up with anymore and I have set some hard and fast boundaries. This is in part due to my work in therapy, and in part due to the fact that we are in unprecedented times and I realize that I just don’t have the time, nor the mental energy, to maintain certain aspects of relationships that made me feel like an inferior person.

I now understand that my mental health is my top priority, and if it’s not in decent working order, the rest of my life becomes messy.

Going forward, I feel like I’m going to appreciate travel so much more, as well as just being able to hang out with friends when we feel like it. Our community of friends are so important to us, and to not be able to see them much during this time is difficult.

After the pandemic has run its course, I hope the world becomes a kinder place to be and that the progress that has been made by the Black Lives Matter protests and the Defund Police protests continues, and that it flows into other areas in need of serious social reform.

Spending so much time with my kids every day, I’ve learned that they’re more resilient than I thought. It’s been difficult for Evey to not play with friends often, and to live in a new world where she’s typically not allowed to go into a store, and if she does, then she has to be hyper aware of not touching anything and giving people their space. To me, this would all seem very scary to a kid, but they’re kids, and they change and adapt much easier than adults, typically.

Both of my kids have sensory processing issues and at the beginning of the pandemic, I decided that we needed help with Evey’s anxiety again (she had talk therapy for her anxiety when she was four). I enrolled her in horse therapy and it has been so great for her. Max was in the Nevada Early Intervention program where he received speech therapy, occupational therapy, and behavior therapy, but he was unable to see his therapists due to the pandemic and he aged out of the system when he turned three in June, so I also enrolled him in horse therapy, and he is doing wonderfully too.

I was pleasantly surprised when Evey so easily rode a horse her first day and I am in awe of her confidence in the arena. Max took to riding quickly too, and has no issues being out there on the horse with his therapist and volunteers as Evey and I watch from the sidelines.

I know my kids have their limitations on what they’re comfortable with, and sometimes my patience is tried and I find it difficult to sympathize with their issues, but, with the help of their therapists, I’m learning to understand them more.

Chris and I are also allowing them more freedom at home to try new things: you wanna watch a three year old make a sandwich and fill up the cats’ food dish, or a six year old fold her own clothes and help her dad change the oil in a car? Then come to my house and see me smile and encourage as I am internally freaking out…somewhat. 

What I hope my kids remember from our home is that they were always allowed, and encouraged, to be themselves. As a young kid, I was always dressed impeccably with matching outfits and curled hair, and this is just not a thing for my kids. Evey has chosen her outfits since she was three and Max has followed suit. Mismatched attire, and sometimes mismatched shoes, are the norm, and I am rarely allowed to do anything with Evey’s hair, it’s just not her style. I appreciate their independence when it comes to how they want to dress themselves, and as exhausting as it can be sometimes, I know their stubbornness will pay dividends when they’re adults.

I hope my kids remember that their opinions were always welcomed and heard, even if they weren’t always put into action or agreed with. I hope my kids remember all of the get-togethers inside and out of this house and how much love was bestowed on them by all of our wonderful friends and family. I hope they remember that mom and dad apologized when they were wrong, mostly. I hope they totally forget when I lost my shit on occasion because I didn’t take the time to calm my own internal struggle. 

My absolute favorite thing about living with my kids is watching them develop their own personalities and learn new things. Recently, it was incredible to see Max name all of his colors, practically overnight, and wow us with his color knowledge. Evey’s kind-heartedness melts me every day as she sticks up for her brother, even when he’s being a pain, or the puppy, who is a near constant pain.

I don’t miss previous ages and stages, but I do already miss little things that my kids used to do or like, like Evey’s two year obsession with Spider-Man or Max once calling dinosaurs ‘dino-no-nos’. I’m never sure when something is going to happen for the last time, like Max could stop saying “tank ewe, mom” very soon and Evey will one day not want to give me cheek-hurting kisses every time I leave the house. I’m trying to be more present and appreciate all of those little things. 

I wish someone had told me (and I had listened!) that all kids are different and that they develop at different times. Truly, this would have been a game changer for me when Evey was an infant. She wasn’t mobile until she was 14 months old, didn’t walk until she was 18 months, had a speech delay, and I felt like a horrible mom. I received some encouragement from friends, but it was difficult feeling like the odd mom out.

With Max, I’m not sure if I was/am just more vocal about some of the issues we were/are having, but friends and family are now more likely to let me know and share in my excitement when they hear him saying something new or they see he’s achieved a new skill. To me, one of the most important things I can hear from friends and family is encouragement and the fact that I’m doing a good job, and I try to return the favor when someone in my mom tribe is feeling down about themselves and their mothering skills. 

——

Thank you, Chenay! I love when you see a house and you can really tell that the home is full of creative people — there is art on the walls, art supplies are all around, and there are creative touches like the dining room wallpapered with old book pages. Such a cool idea! And I love the idea of spending some of the quarantine time building more of an outdoor play space for her kids. Being stuck at home is so much more bearable when there is space for the kids to run and play.

I also really appreciated Chenay’s willingness to be open, both with us as readers and with her kids, about her challenges with mental health. This to me feels like a big change in this generation of parents from the one before. My parents never talked about their mental health (and still don’t) and I think it is so powerful for our kids to see us as imperfect beings who have good days and bad, and who sometimes mess up and have to apologize. What a great lesson to learn as a kid from the people you trust the most in the world.

How you do you prioritize your mental health daily? How has it been different during the quarantine? What adjustments are you making to be your most healthy self?

SOURCES

Green moth bowl

Living Room Rug

Bean bag chair covers


Check out Chenay’s blog here. Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram too.

Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at features@designmom.com